In conversation with Naseer Husain Jafri and Umair Ahmad Andrabi on starting FAITH(NGO) to bring reforms in the field of higher education and research

The Foundation for Academia, Innovation, and Thought was founded last year by two students from the Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia, in collaboration with the University of Rochester, New York, where they cleared Institutional Research Board and were selected by the Global Engagement program of the University. With the publication of the first edition of the South Asian Journal of Law, Policy, and Social Research(SAJLPSR) close at hand, Mohammad Haroon meets the founders, Naseer Husain Jafri(aka Tariq), and Umair Ahmed Andrabi to bring forth details of the same.

Click HERE for the video interview

  1. Can you please share how this idea came to your mind and what drove you to achieve it as it is today?

While working for Teach for India, I could see that there is a lot of work being done in the field of primary education; however, the same is not the case with higher education in India. Tariq and I had a discussion over it and we found that the field of research is suffering from deficiency in South-Asia. There are numerous problems that plague research in South-Asia for example, plagiarism, unverified research being published, and predatory journals etc. Since, in higher education, what drives you towards growth is research, so, we knew our primary goal is to fix this problem. It is an undeniable fact that South-Asia has produced luminaries and Noble Laureates, which means there is no shortage of brains and all it needs, is a platform where the South Asian Scholars get a space to express and publish their research.

2. What is your current approach with this initiative?

We have a three-pronged approach on this. Primarily, we established a South Asian Journal which would mainly research on law, in consonance with other social sciences, and we make sure that it is peer-reviewed, that the articles are sourced from around the globe to have a diverse point of view, and that we do not charge money from anyone during this process in order to make it more accessible. Secondly, we will conduct Colloquia on the theme we pick every year, for example, the theme for the year 2020 is Gender-based Violence (GBV), so while we will publish our journal on GBV, we will also conduct a Colloquium on the same, that will not only make sure that research is being published but also that people are talking about it. Thirdly, we are also proposing an Incubator Fund, its purpose being, to meet the needs of people who have ideas but do not have the means to fulfill them. Through this Incubator fund, we intend support specific people by picking up around half a dozen projects every year and fund  with a money grant so that it kick starts their journey and they can carry out social work or changes in research. Through all this, we hope to start a person’s journey towards research early, and provide them an incentive to fulfill the same.

3. Art plays an important role in your initiative; can you please elaborate more on the same?

The word Research Paper has its image as something very lengthy and boring. The research sections in our libraries are often the least visited sections. Our trips to the library can be divided into three parts; firstly, to get a coursebook that will help you in exams, secondly, to read a newspaper or a magazine, thirdly, it can be a reference book that you read to prepare for competitions, and lastly, research paper section, which we read only enough to gain the required information. People have started relying on web search to get concise and mostly inaccurate information for their query and they have made a peace with it, the reason being what we stated above, research papers are lengthy and boring.

When we speak of making the research more accessible, we do not stop at only making it free, we have to make it interesting and appealing to a larger demographyas well. It is because of this very reason that we joined hands with the Mass Communication department of JMI and we released a call for photographs on our theme, the idea is to include 10 best photographs among the entries to the journal, each preceding an article with a 150- word story. In doing so, when someone opens our journal, she/he sees the photograph and understands the seriousness of the theme, which raises the inquisitiveness in that person and it urges the person to read the article next to it. Through this, we plan to make inherently lazy humans read a research paper and ultimately stick to reading a research paper. In themes like Gender based violence, such an approach will not encourage reading but also create empathy towards the victim in the mind of the reader.

4. There must have been certain hurdles while pursuing all these goals; could you please put light on some of them?

Our first hurdle gave us the idea of incubator fund, we faced a problem that any 20 years old will face, we had financial strains, I believe we were lucky enough to pass that hurdle because of gracious parents, generous benefactors, and primarily, our partners at the Susan B. Anthony Center, University of Rochester.

Other than that, I believe the second hurdle was because of a prejudice that people have, everyone knows you by your description, and they don’t know you for your ideas. If you have come up with a brilliant idea, you are still two undergraduates, and again because of the prejudice of laziness and non-seriousness, it belittles the whole idea itself and wherein you could have easily secured sponsorships or support or guidance from some academician, lawyer, judge etc. if you were someone senior such as a PhD scholar, we had to spend hours and days getting it. Now, I do not blame them for it, undergraduates are not taken seriously, not because they don’t have ideas, but because since they don’t have financial support, so everybody has an impression that an undergraduate cannot execute an idea.

The third hurdle would be laziness; I do not know how many brilliant ideas are discussed overnight and forgotten by the morning. In a third-world country, where the whole mechanism of institutions are structured in a way that you need money for everything, it makes you significantly lazy to pay the bills as well as invest in your ideas. And I would take this opportunity to convey this experience-cum-suggestion to everybody who is working on an idea that when you think of an idea, you must do something about it, even if it is as much as writing it down in a notebook. You must do something about it and you will see support pouring in from every direction.

5. Can you please describe the changes that you believe your initiative might bring in the near future?

We always blame policymakers for not utilizing research to formulate their policies but we do not take into consideration that there isn’t much research work being produced up to that level. We hope to influence policy-makers by producing peer-reviewed research. We will make sure we produce good quality research, and also that we follow it up by conducting colloquia on it, which would encourage debate and discussion on the annual themes and which in turn will bring a drastic change in the way we view research. We plan to bring judges, lawyers, academicians, social scientists, research scholars, young people, because ultimately the law impacts the young people, the future is of the young people. We get all of them in one platform wherein somehow, they impact our research culture, which further helps influence policy-making.

*The interview was conducted in the month of January.

 

 

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